Book Review by Sonam Ongmo

By Sonam Ongmo - 20 January 2014
Judging by its size the “The History of Bhutan” may appear to be a daunting read, but it should be essential and recommended for all Bhutanese.  Our school curriculums only scratch the surface of Bhutanese history leaving many of us with a fragmented and incomplete knowledge of our country.
The book could be the most comprehensive work to date and provides detailed information on the country’s origin, how it got its name, languages, origin of people, and traces the history from its earliest period to date.   Because of the information, the details it entails, and the simplicity in language, the Education System should put this book on the curriculum of Bhutanese High Schools or Colleges.  In this way, students not only absorb the latest updated, well-researched information on the country’s history and geography, but it also encourages and instills Bhutanese literary pride.  But the author feels that Bhutanese students should try and read the works on Bhutan’s history written in Dzongkha and not in English.
“My book was primarily written for a non-Bhutanese audience with some knowledge of Bhutan, that is why the long geographic, linguistic and cultural introduction,” he said.  But whoever the audience, it may be time that Bhutanese students learned to absorb studies on Bhutan just the way outsiders or foreigners would.  Otherwise it would indeed be a big loss or waste of an academic study of such a proportion.  It is also assumed that the Bhutanese would have this knowledge, when we don’t, and so sometimes a foreigner winds up knowing more about our country than we do.
What is great about this work is that it has been undertaken by a Bhutanese and makes us proud that we have amongst us someone who painstakingly researched and put together this immense body of work.  There is much that has been written about Bhutan, often by foreign authors, but most of their work only outlines Bhutan’s history in sketchy details.  Karma Phuntsho’s book, on the other hand, chronologically traces the secular and religious course of the country from its existence to modern times with fascinating detail.
According to Karma Phuntsho, there are many complete works on Bhutan History in Dzongkha, but only partial ones in English.  The idea for the book in English came about while he was researching Pema Lingpa, the treasure revealer, and his notes gradually became the skeleton for the book.“There was need also for a more objective history, beside the state-sponsored [one], and all the better if a Bhutanese did it,” he said.  “I happened to be in the best position to combine traditional historical perspectives with modern historiography although I was not really trained as a historian.”
Karma Phuntsho had his early education in Bhutan’s monasteries and mostly in Dzongkha.  He then went on to Oxford and then worked as a research fellow at Cambridge and at CNRS Paris.  Apart from being one of the leading scholars in Bhutan, he started the Loden Foundation that supports education and promotes learning and entrepreneurship in Bhutan and the Himalayas. more at: